BOC may look into HOA fees

MANSFIELD -- Board of Commissioners Chairman Kathy Morgan said she wants the county to somehow address the increasing problem of residents being forced to pay homeowner's association fees without getting promised amenities.

"I take issue with builders and developers selling subdivisions with amenities that don't tell the residents they have to pay homeowner's association dues for the rest of their lives to maintain them or that they have to collect the money before they put the amenities in," Morgan said at the BOC's weekend retreat at Burge Plantation in Mansfield.

Morgan said she gets about one call a week from a resident with complaints on the issue.

Jenny Carter with the County Attorney's Office said the current ordinance states that the amenities have to be put in once 75 percent of homes are built. The problem is that builders and developers are going bankrupt before meeting that threshold, leaving homeowners to continue paying fees for amenities they aren't getting, she said.

County Attorney Tommy Craig said the simplest remedy would be to require the amenities be put in up front, along with streets and utilities.

"That's bulletproof," he said.

Morgan said the BOC will likely have a work session on the issue. She said she also wants a requirement that homeowner's associations submit a contact name and number to the county on an annual basis, as staff has had trouble finding that information in some cases.

In other news, Carter told commissioners they must soon decide whether they want to issue tax exempt bonds for public and private development.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 created two new bond programs for use by local governments -- Recovery Zone Economic Development Bonds and Recovery Zone Facility Bonds.

Newton County has been allocated $4,478,000 for Recovery Zone Economic Development Bonds. The economic development bonds can be used for public infrastructure and facilities and come with a 45 percent tax credit on interest payments as an incentive to investors.

The county was also allocated $6,717,000 for Recovery Zone Facility Bonds, private activity bonds used to finance new capital improvements owned and used by industrial, commercial, retail and other businesses.

Both the economic development and facility bonds must be used on projects that fall within designated recovery zones, or areas that have significant poverty, unemployment or home foreclosure rates; are federally designated empowerment zones; or have been negatively affected by military base closures.

The BOC reserved the rights to issue the bonds last October. At the time, Morgan said there were no specific projects in mind, although she said several existing industries had expressed interest in taking advantage of the facility bonds.

The state of Georgia received nearly $356 million in economic development allocations and nearly $534 million in facility bond allocations.

Governments intending to use their allocations must complete all project financing by July 1, but may file for an extension. Money that is not used will be returned to the state.

Finally, commissioners discussed modifying the code of ethics to prohibit BOC members from accepting gifts in excess of $50, the same standard that is applied to employees.

"I think we should have to follow the same standard as our employees live by," said Commissioner Tim Fleming, who added that since being elected, he's received one gift: a can of pecans at Christmas. "I have no problem with having to disclose what we receive one or two times a year."

But Commissioner Earnest Simmons said he has mixed emotions about the proposal, because gifts can easily cost more than $50 given current prices.

Commissioner J.C. Henderson said the change is unnecessary.

"Basically, the commissioners are not getting anything anyway. We're trying to fix something that's not broken," he said. Henderson said he's never received a gift in relation to his role as a county official.

Morgan said if the board wants to address the issue, a work session can be scheduled.